When deadlines get tight, it can be tempting to skip proofreading and go straight to posting your blog or filing your brief. But typos and form errors can come back to haunt you later on.
The Shame of Skipping Proofreading
I have a confession to make. I sent a legal writing client a summary disposition brief without proof reading it.
The client called me confused. There were references in there that didn’t make sense, they said. They didn’t understand what I had written. It turned out, I had used a previous project (for the same client) as a form to lay out my caption, introduction, and Statement of Facts. That other client’s facts were throwing off my story telling.
It’s an easy mistake to make when you’re rushing. You’re using a form you trust to plug in facts and law and save yourself some time. But then you’re down to the wire and you click send without going back to make sure you deleted all those references. Now you have problems.
Lucky for me, I have a long relationship with the client, and he had a bit more time before the filing deadline. One apologetic phone call and a bit of unbilled editing later, the proofreading was done and the brief was ready to file (for sure this time).
The Cost of Skipping Proofreading in Your Legal Briefs
There’s nothing wrong with using forms in your legal writing. We all do it. The Michigan Institute of Continuing Legal Education makes a lot of money providing samples of everything from Complaints to Motions to Compel.
But when you get a sample from ICLE or another source, it is sanitized. There’s no client names to replace or irrelevant details to weed out. That makes those forms safer to use because it is easy to scan for (or use the Find feature to locate) brackets and fill in the missing information. If your forms come from your own case files, you have to be more careful.
Using one legal brief to write another is dangerous for many reasons:
- The legal issues may not be exactly the same
- The law may have changed since you wrote the first brief
- You could accidentally breach attorney-client confidentiality if you leave past clients’ names in current legal briefs
- You will certainly confuse your judge if you start referencing another case
That’s not to say you shouldn’t pull legal research from past briefs as a starting point. However, if you do, make sure you go back and update your research. And don’t even think of skipping proofreading!
Skipping Proofreading Isn’t Smart for Blogs Either
The stakes may not be as high if the content you’re writing is for your blog instead of your brief. But that doesn’t mean you can skip proofreading. As a lawyer, your blog is about portraying confidence, competence, and experience. If your blog is filled with typos and grammar errors, it will not cast you in that light.
That’s why I take a 4-step approach to writing blogs:
- Write the first draft. Just get the words on the page, don’t worry about editing.
- Reread and edit the post. Add SEO, headings, and links to related articles.
- GO AWAY. Disengage your brain and do something else so that you forget what it was you were trying to say.
- Proofread and post.
Step 3 is the single most important step. If you don’t disconnect from what you are writing, your brain will read what you meant, instead of what you put on the page.
Yes, this writing method means you can’t procrastinate until the last minute.
Yes, it takes longer than just drafting and hitting “post”.
Yes, you should do it anyway.
Skipping proofreading is dangerous, whether you are posting on your blog or preparing a case-changing legal brief. Take the few extra minutes to clear your head and read through everything one more time. It will save you from sharing my shame and having to revise a post or file an amended brief. I’m changing my policies so I never skip proofreading again. You should too.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She provides outsourced legal research and writing to Michigan law firms. If you need help meeting your filing deadlines, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.